Something was wrong.
As my brain clawed its way back to consciousness, my body stiffened, a primal reaction to danger. I could feel it, sense it. I stilled. I just knew… something was wrong.
I tried to open my eyes, but groaned when the bright sunlight sent a stab of pain straight to my temples. I threw my elbow over my eyes as I focused on taking a deep breath to quell the nausea which rose against the back of my throat.
My lungs tried to expand, but a clinging pressure restricted them. I flattened my hand on the center of my chest. Intricate beading and what felt like stiffened lace scratched my palm.
What the hell?
The dress I’d had on earlier was fashioned of soft silk.
I rose on my elbows and stared down the length of my body.
Is that blood?
I tried to swing my legs over the side of the bed, but my feet got caught in the voluminous skirts of the dress I now
wore. I tumbled over the edge of the mattress, landing painfully on my hands and knees. Flecks of crimson marred the pale back of my right hand. Scrambling to my feet, I ignored the twinge of pain in my knee as I hobbled across Roman’s bedroom to the dressing room. I swung the door open and crossed to the floor-length mirror at the other end.
My mouth dropped open in shocked horror.
I raised my fingertips to the dress bodice as if I needed to feel it to know this was real. My gaze traveled over my body, taking in each unfamiliar detail of the dress I wore. The top was a tightly laced silk corset with cream lace and crystal beads in an elaborate floral pattern. I swiveled my hips to stare at the back in the mirror. There were reams of gathered silk where a large bustle would go, ending in a small train.
It was a beautiful Victorian-looking wedding gown.
The problem was, it wasn’t my dress. This one was the same color as the one I last remembered wearing, but it was different. I had never seen it before in my life.
It was also covered in blood splatter along the right side.
As I tried to come to grips with my mounting terror, I stared at my haunted reflection. My cheeks looked pale and sunken in. My eyes were rimmed with red, as if I had been crying. Red lipstick was smeared across my lips, which mirrored, in a macabre way, the mascara stains under my eyes.
My breath rising in panic, I shoved my fingers into my tangled hair. I hissed as a sharp sting had me wrenching my hand back. There was a thin cut down the center of my right palm, and a small droplet of blood clung to the skin.
Furrowing my brow, I gingerly dug into my wild nest of hair and yanked free the remnants of what had probably been a floral head wreath. The delicate white orange blossom petals were crushed and bruised. A sharp wire poked out from behind the ivory ribbon which had been wrapped around the head wreath. Its end was stained with my blood.
With a cry, I hurled the crushed flower wreath across the room.
I grabbed at the bodice, trying to wrench it off me. It was too tightly secured. Reaching behind my back, I desperately searched for a clasp, a button, a corset string, anything to loosen the dress. After several minutes of trying, I sank to my knees in front of the mirror. My chest was covered in scratches from where I’d tried to claw the bodice off.
Why couldn’t I remember putting on this dress?
Why couldn’t I remember anything?
And whose blood was this?
I could already tell it wasn’t mine. I had no visible injuries.
There wasn’t a lot of blood. It was just hundreds of tiny drops, as if someone had flicked a paintbrush full of red paint at me. Except it wasn’t paint. I knew the smell of blood. I had smelled the coppery harbinger of death right before finding my mother and stepfather dead. The memory of that scent never left you.
The only sound in the dressing room was my labored and erratic breathing.
There was, of course, one question I hadn’t asked yet… Where was Roman?
I wrapped my arms around my waist and rocked back and forth.
Why couldn’t I remember?
What the hell had happened to me?
What had I done?
I placed my hands over my face. Think. I had to think. I had no complete memory of the last twenty-four hours, just flashes of color and unknown faces. Fear. I remembered feeling afraid and confused. Then nothing. As if someone had wiped my mind blank. What if it wasn’t that I couldn’t remember but that my mind didn’t want me to remember? I’d read about the mind protecting itself from traumatic memories by refusing to recall them.
What had I done?
I stared at the wrinkled and bloodied wedding dress. It seemed oddly familiar, and yet I couldn’t imagine why. I’d think I would remember willingly wearing a freaking Victorian wedding gown.
Nothing was going to come to me kneeling on the floor. I needed to get out of this awful dress and wash the blood off.
Maybe then it would all come back to me. I ran my hands over my upper arms as a shiver wracked my body. That was, if I wanted to remember.
I wrapped my left hand around a drawer handle and used it to pull myself upright. I then searched the other drawers for a pair of scissors. My only option was to somehow cut my way out of the dress. I found a pair of large, silver, lethal-looking shears.
Just as I was about to thrust the opened blades between my breasts to cut the silk corset, I heard a sound behind me.
I turned, gripping the shears like a weapon and raising them high.
Roman stood in the doorway. His chest was bare. He was holding what looked like a wadded up white dress shirt soaked in blood over his shoulder.
I gasped. “What happened?”
His eyes narrowed. “You shot me. And on our wedding day, no less.”